Practically all of the high-jinx and mistakes that drive the comedy and plot of The Comedy of Errors result from the confusion of the identities of Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, and Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse. Each one is constantly mixed up with his twin because of his physical appearance, even though they act differently and insist on who they really are. The play thus shows the folly of making assumptions based on someone’s appearance. In the end, everyone’s true identity is revealed. This resolution, though, does not put an end to the play’s deeper questioning of identity. In particular, Shakespeare’s comedy prompts one to ask: where does identity come from? Is it something innate that we are born with and that is then recognized by other people? Or does the recognition of others actually help create our identity?
Each Antipholus and Dromio has a “true” identity with which they are born that determines their life to some degree. However, characters’ identities are also partially formed by how other people treat them. Antipholus of Syracuse in some sense becomes Antipholus of Ephesus for a small period of time, because he is treated as such. Moreover, it is only when characters’ true identities are recognized by others that they truly become themselves. Aemilia declares herself to be Aegeon’s wife, and Aegeon declares Antipholus of Ephesus to be his son, but it is only when Aegeon recognizes Aemilia and Antipholus recognizes his father that these identities are completely fulfilled. Moreover, what people do can also help define who they are. The merchant and courtesan remain unnamed in the play, known only by their occupations. Similarly, Aemilia is only known as the abbess for much of her time on stage. Thus, identity in the play is a curious and complicated mix of innate qualities, where one is from (the two pairs of twins are only distinguished by their cities of origin), what one does, and how one is seen by other people.
Appearances and Identity ThemeTracker
Appearances and Identity Quotes in The Comedy of Errors
There had she not been long but she became
A joyful mother of two goodly sons;
And, which was strange, the one so like the other
As could not be distinguish’d but by names.
That very hour, and in the self-same inn,
A meaner woman was delivered
Of such a burden, male twins, both alike:
Those, for their parents were exceeding poor,
I bought, and brought up to attend my sons.
Where is the gold I gave in charge to thee?
To me, sir? Why, you gave no gold to me.
Come on, sir knave, have done your foolishness,
And tell me how thou hast disposed thy charge.
My charge was but to fetch you from the mart
Home to your house, the Phoenix, sir, to dinner:
My mistress and her sister stays for you.
Now, as I am a Christian, answer me,
In what safe place you have bestow’d my money;
Or I shall break that merry sconce of yours,
That stands on tricks when I am undisposed:
Where is the thousand marks thou hadst of me?
When I desired him to come home to dinner,
He ask’d me for a thousand marks in gold:
‘’Tis dinner-time,’ quoth I; ‘My gold!’ quoth he:
‘Your meat doth burn,’ quoth I; ‘My gold!’ quoth he:
‘Will you come home?’ quoth I; ‘My gold!’ quoth he,
‘Where is the thousand marks I gave thee, villain?’
‘The pig,’ quoth I, ‘is burn’d;’ ‘My gold!’ quoth he:
‘My mistress, sir,’ quoth I; “Hang up thy mistress!
I know not thy mistress; out on thy mistress!’
Fie, brother! How the world is changed with you!
When were you wont to use my sister thus?
She sent for you by Dromio home to dinner.
By thee; and this thou didst return from him,
That he did buffet thee, and, in his blows,
Denied my house for his, me for his wife.
Did you converse, sir, with this gentlewoman?
What is the course and drift of your compact?
I, Sir? I never saw her till this time.
Villain, thou liest; for even her very words
Didst thou deliver to me on the mart.
I never spake with her in all my life.
How can she thus, then, call us by our names,
Unless it be by inspiration.
Are you, there, wife? You might have come before.
Your wife, sir knave! Go get you from the door.
Are you a god? Would you create me new?
Transform me, then, and to your power I’ll yield.
But if that I am I, then well I know
Your weeping sister is no wife of mine,
Nor to her bed no homage do I owe:
Far more, far more to you do I decline.
O, train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note,
To drown me in thy sister flood of tears:
Sing, siren, for thyself, and I will dote.
Why, how now, Dromio! Where runn’st thou so fast?
Do you know me, sir? Am I Dromio? Am I your man? Am I myself?
Thou art Dromio, thou art my man, thou art thyself.
I am an ass, I am a woman’s man, and besides myself.
What woman’s man? And how besides thyself?
Marry, sir, besides myself, I am due to a woman; one that claims me, one that haunts me, one that will have me.
Ay, that’s my name.
I know it well, sir:—lo, here is the chain.
I thought to have ta’en you at the Porpentine:
The chain unfinish’d made me stay thus long.
What is your will that I shall do with this?
What please yourself, sir: I have made it for you.
Made it for me, sir! I bespoke it not.
I answer you! What should I answer you?
The money that you owe me for the chain.
I owe you none till I receive the chain.
You know I gave it you half an hour since.
You gave me none: you wrong me much to say so.
You wrong me more, sir, in denying it:
Consider how it stands upon my credit.
Well, officer, arrest him at my suit.
What ship of Epidamnum stays for me?
A ship you sent me to, to hire waftage.
Thou drunken slave, I sent thee for a rope,
And told thee to what purpose and what end.
You sent me for a rope’s end as soon:
You sent me to the bay, sir, for a bark.
I will debate this matter at more leisure,
And teach your ears to list me with more heed.
To Adriana, villain, hie thee straight:
Give her this key, and tell her, in the desk
That’s cover’d o’er with Turkish tapestry
There is a purse of ducats; let her send it:
Tell her I am arrested in the street,
And that shall bail me: hie thee, slave, be gone!
Thou art, as you are all, a sorceress:
I conjure thee to leave me and be gone.
Give me the ring of mine you had at dinner,
Or, for my diamond, the chain you promised,
And I’ll be gone, sir, and not trouble you.
Alas, I sent you money to redeem you,
By Dromio here, who came in haste for it.
Money by me! Heart and good-will you might;
But surely, master, not a rag of money.
Went’st not thou to her for a purse of ducats?
He came to me, and I deliver’d it.
And I am witness with her that she did.
God and the rope-maker bear me witness
That I was sent for nothing but a rope!
You have done wrong to this my honest friend;
Who, but for staying on our controversy,
Had hoisted sail and put to sea to-day:
This chain you had of me; can you deny it?
I think I had; I never did deny it.
Yes, that you did, sir, and forswore it too.
Who heard me to deny it or forswear it?
These ears of mine, thou know’st, did hear thee.
I am sure you both of you remember me.
Ourselves we do remember, sir, by you;
For lately we were bound, as you are now.
You are not Pinch’s patient, are you, sir?
Why look you so strange on me? You know me well.
I never saw you in my life till now.
O, grief hath changed me since you saw me last,
And careful hours with time’s deformed hand
Have written strange defeatures in my face:
But tell me yet, dost thou not know my voice?
Dromio, nor thou?
No, trust me, sir, nor I.
I am sure thou dost.
I see two husbands, or mine eyes deceive me.
One of these men is Genius to the other;
And so of these, which is the natural man,
And which the spirit? Who deciphers them?